A quail embryo developing in its egg was the subject of a photography contest aimed at displaying the beauty of the smallest things in the world.

The Nikon '2013 Small World in Motion' contest featured photomicrographs - detailed images of small objects - as works of art.

Gabriel Martins of the Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciencia in Portugal created the video from more than 1,000 images showing development of the bird. The developing animal was recorded over 10 days of development, when the subject was less than an inch in length.

Optical tomography was used to record the tiny bird inside its shell. Techniques used to create the 3D time lapse photo of the quail could also create similar studies of larger animals.

Second place in the contest went to Michael Weber of the Max Plank Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics in Germany. Like Martins, he too recorded video of an embryo; the subject of Weber's camera was much smaller. The biologist recorded a video showing a beating heart within a two-day old zebra fish embryo. During the 13 second-long film, viewers see blood cells being transported through heart vessels.

Light sheet fluorescence microscopy was used to capture the images needed to produce the video. This technique is often used to image embryos, producing 3D maps of entire organisms.

Lin Shao from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute took third place with a 3D video of HeLa cancer cells. This is also the first video to ever show mitochondria - the energy center of cells - in detail.

HeLa cells are the most widely-used type of human cancer cells in laboratories. These structures are essentially immortal and originally developed as a form of cervical cancer from Henrietta Lacks in 1951. She eventually died from her disease. They were the first human cells successfully cloned, four years after they were originally recorded.

Researchers used structured illuminated microscopy to image the cell components.

"These videos embrace the very spirit of this competition, which aims to remind us all that cutting-edge science and imaging are not only happening every day, but can be artistically intriguing as well," Eric Flem, customer relations manager for Nikon Instruments, said.

This is the third year of the video contest, sponsored by the manufacturers of photographic equipment. Nikon awarded each of the top three winners $6,000 in credit toward their products.

The award-winning quail embryo video can be seen below:

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